Student-driven curriculum, relationship building, and communication lie at the heart of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, an approach that originated in Reggio Emilia, Italy soon after World War II. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Reggio Emilia approach or have not read The Hundred Language of Children, it provides excellent insight into this approach to learning, and will most certainly change the way you think about the classroom.
Reggio Emilia aside, if you really think about it, in any approach to teaching, communication truly lies at the heart of all student learning.
Without external experiences, our consciousness would be nothing, and in order for our consciousness to materialize, communication with some outside source is necessary. In most cases, when we hear the word “communication,” we tend to think about it interpersonally. We think of words or symbols that allow two individuals to communicate and exchange ideas or perhaps even intrapersonal words or ideas that allow us to have an inner dialogue. From this exchange of ideas, new entities materialize, easily classified as “learning.” I’ve begun to think that this process could, in fact, occur in more ways than just communication between two people. Communication could be generalized to interaction. Children are able to interact with many types of media, and in essence, they’re able to speak many different languages.
Take this crazy idea as an example: The child who builds a tall tower out of wooden blocks is actually communicating with gravity when they balance blocks and try to keep their tower from tumbling to the floor. The child learns gravity’s language, through its feedback and through each block that falls, and in turn, speaks to gravity more effectively the next time she adds a block. Each time this exchange occurs between the child and gravity, the complexity of her structure grows, creating the aforementioned new “entity”–the new tower–through each period of communication. Likewise, in another context, a child who is painting learns to speak in color. He mixes red and yellow, and before his eyes, he witnesses the two colors communicate to create a new language: orange.
We are so apt to fence learning into an absolute of an exchange between two beings, one where there is a unidirectional exchange of information, only allowing one of the parties to benefit, but when true learning occurs, the child decides to interact, and an entirely new entity is created–one that may communicate back to the child. The “learning” itself takes on a shape or life of its own, creating a new language in which to speak, and a new mode for learning for the future.